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NEW ENGLAND LITERARY NEWS

Returning to 1970s Maine, announcing the Brother Thomas Fellows, and a new spot for I AM Books

Photographer John Duncan captures Portland, Maine, in the 1970s in his new book.John Duncan

Picturing the 1970s

In the 1970s, in Portland, Maine, John Duncan drove a cab, collected trash, washed dishes, and took photographs. He took photographs of the city where he lived in the moment he was living it, photographs of pals and strangers, of playing kids and old people on benches, of street scenes and Saturday morning apartments. “Take It Easy: Portland, Maine in the 1970s” (Islandport) collects his black-and-white images and the assemblage captures the atmosphere and personality of Portland nearly half a century ago. There’s summer on a front stoop, a woman slouched with the easy vacant stare of the unwatched, bar scenes, messy bedrooms, jam sessions, Volkswagens. In a photo of a woman at the wheel of one of the VWs and a man riding shotgun beside her, taken from the backseat, a whole story lights out of the image, a whole novel out of their expressions and the atmosphere of expectation. “This was what my life, and life for a lot of people, was during the seventies,” Duncan writes, “experimental, transitional, and unplanned; an experience.” Most striking about the book is the joy — these are people smiling, kicking back, in quiet moments, with light in their eyes, and an evident calm delight in whatever it is that’s going down. And there’s mischief in a lot of the faces, giving the sense that these kids, or barely-grown-ups, or older people, are getting away with something, or about to have a good time. It does not feel nostalgic, but rather like a document captured by someone with an eye for the twinkle in other people, and who likely brings it out in them.

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Writerly honors

The Boston Foundation recently announced the 16 Greater Boston artists who’ll be Brother Thomas Fellows for 2021. Founded to honor Benedictine monk and ceramicist Brother Thomas Bezanson, the fund goes toward artists at crucial moments in their careers; each fellow receives an unrestricted grant for $15,000. This year’s group was the largest of its 12-year history, and were nominated by a committee. Three local writers were included in this year’s fellowship cohort. Poet and educator Tatiana Johnson-Boria got her MFA at Emerson College; her work focuses on inherited trauma and identity. Grace Talusan is the Fannie Hurst Writer-in-Residence at Brandeis, and the author of “The Body Papers” which won the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, and she’s currently at work on a novel. Cynthia Yee grew up in Boston’s Chinatown and writes nonfiction that centers on what it was to come of age in 1950s and ‘60s Boston as an American-born Taishanese girl; she centers her attention on social justice and the ingredients for building a strong community. Since 2009, 72 artists have been awarded over a million dollars.

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Bookstore is back

I AM Books, which focuses on Italian and Italian-American heritage and literature, has just opened its doors in its new location at 124 Salem St. in Boston’s North End. The store, founded in 2015, closed its brick-and-mortar space in August 2020, keeping the online operation going, and set to work on trying to find a new storefront. It had hoped to open earlier in the fall, but the pandemic and supply chain issues created a number of delays, holding off the hoped-for opening. And though “the bookstore is not yet running at full speed,” according to owner Nicola Orichuia, they’re glad to have a physical space again, and looking forward to welcoming readers into it.

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Coming out

You Don’t Know Us Negroes and Other Essaysby Zora Neale Hurston and Henry Louis Gates Jr. (Amistad)

No Land to Light Onby Yara Zgheib (Atria)

Bibliolepsy by Gina Apostol (Soho)

Pick of the week

Ellen Hartwell at Broadside Bookshop in Northampton recommends “Here If You Need Me” by Kate Braestrup (Back Bay): “Braestrup’s memoir of her life as a chaplain in the Maine Warden Service touched my heart. The wardens conduct search and rescues in the woods and on the waterways; they also police those same areas, protecting wildlife and humans. Her job is to hold hope and give comfort to the families of those lost or hurt. She does this with humility, grace, and when needed, the right amount of humor. No one could ask for more during a time of need.”

Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Wake, Siren.” She can be reached at nmaclaughlin@gmail.com.